by Vern Smith, continued...
Forced love and understanding aside,
this road trip was the hallmark of a new low. We were driving to Wainfleet, home to four churches serving a population of 200. The fine people at the Wainfleet Evangelistic Centre had Rudie coming out for Jesus that day. After we scraped and scratched enough paint from the windows to make his Mustang legal again, I tried turning Rudie around. That’s when he spoke of the paint as a symbol.
  “A message,” he deadpanned, with the sunken, brown eyes of a heroin addict. “This trip’s not coming off as it should. It’s not easy driving like the others. Something or someone’s trying to keep me...to stop me.”
  “Don’t be an idiot, Rudie...YOU’RE A FUCKING ATHEIST,” I shouted.
  “Agnostic,” he smugly corrected.
  “That’s right. Keep your options open, just in case.”
  “Jonzun, remember when I drove to New York...to that Naturopathic clinic in Greenwich Village, and they blew ozone gas up my ass?”
  “Sunshine, wasn’t it?” I spat.
  “Fuck Jonzun, listen, I was quite aware the ozone thing was like playing Lottario. So I took the ozone gas, it cost a few hundred dollars and, at the end of the day, it did not rescind my death sentence. But you stood by me, and I crossed something else off my list. Now you’re yelping, ’I told you so,’ just like your fucking paint can sighting. Don’t even bother playing that card with me.”
  “Now that you mention it, don’t you think it’s cards-on-the-table time?”
  “Don’t go there,” he shot back, accelerating.
  “Why not, Rudie? What’s next? Glue for breakfast? You’re degrading yourself. It’s making me crazy watching these bastards profit...from your -”
  “FROM WHAT? MY DEATH? C’MON, SAY IT. SAY IT, JONZUN. FUCK YOU, SAY IT. IT’S MAKING YOU CRAZY, ISN’T IT? WELL TRY LIVING IT EVERY DAY. IT’S IN EVERY NEWSPAPER. EVERY SUBWAY POSTER. MY LIFE. MY HIV. MY FUCKING DEATH. OKAY... please...,” he pleaded, drifting down in volume and into the passing lane.
  Without looking away from the road, he turned down the Concrete Blonde tape and said, “I’ll always wonder if I’m not at that church tonight.”
  And then I was grinding my teeth. We didn’t talk again until Rudie guided his Mustang into the parking lot at the Wainfleet Evangelistic Centre an hour later. The obese Reverend Derrick Farrell was just struggling out of his grey Oldsmobile. Twisted cigar tubes lined his dashboard, along with empty chip bags and Juicy Fruit wrappers. He was late, just like us. The service should have just been starting. Rudie fumbled with his silver hoop earring until he dislodged it from his lobe. He hurriedly asked if I was ready, before jumping out of the whitewashed car and jogging towards the preacher. But before Rudie could say anything, the resident preacher was slapping Farrell on the back. Sliding his arm around Farrell’s wide shoulders. Ushering him inside.


The church was almost full.
But we found two aisle seats in the front row next to a couple in their sixties. Picking a black-sequin purse from the space next to her, the woman smiled, as though she had saved the space for us. The couple then joined in on a few minutes of gospel and song, before the local preacher walked to his pulpit and blew into the microphone.
  “Brothers and sisters, in past weeks I’ve spoken of Reverend Derrick Farrell,” the resident preacher began with canned passion. “We’re all capable of miracles, but we can’t channel our spirituality the way Brother Farrell can. You may have witnessed his gift on a recent edition of Hard Copy. He is the man to whom God has given vision with or without a glass eye. He is God’s testimony. Please, lead the way, Brother Farrell.”
  “Hallelujah,” the congregation praised on the cue of silence. Farrell waddled out from behind a fading, red curtain like a human weeble egg-shaped, four inches under six feet, and well over 300 pounds. His stretchy, black pants struggled against rolls of fat as they formed. Balancing his ass on a wooden chair that wasn’t substantial enough, he looked to his congregation of the day, explaining how barbed wire grabbed onto his face while climbing a fence at the age of 11.
  “Six months later, my right eye ball’s in a mason jar when Mamma takes me to a religious revival in Red Deer, Alberta,” Farrell continued. “The evangelist prayed for sight to return to my empty eye socket. I believed and images appeared. Focus came in a spiritual stream. By dinner, I could see clearly. Man has limits, and when man’s done what he can, the Lord’s a specialist. How many believe that?”
  “Amen,” the congregation said in unison except for me and Rudie.
  The resident preacher returned. From a folded hanky and adhesive tape, he made a crude eye-patch, covering Farrell’s good left eye. Farrell plucked the glass eye from his right socket, holding it up before slipping it into his shirt pocket. He asked the congregation for reading material, ID, match books. One woman brought liner notes from a Christian CD to Farrell. Using his empty eye socket, he read the lyrics with precision. Then he barked out names from licences, business cards, and anything the believing congregation could find in pockets and purses. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but I had several conspiracy theories.
  “You know the power of God when you watch a man read with an eye that’s not there,” the resident preacher praised.
  “Amen,” the congregation said in unison, louder this time.
  Rudie mouthed the words. He lip-synced Amen. His tired eyes widened, and I knew. I just knew he was riding a Christian guilt trip for his Atheism...or Agnosticism, whatever the hell that was. He was sure that AIDS was his punishment. Rudie never told me how he was infected. The closest he ever came was the time he said his life was something out of Dangerous Liaisons, except that he got caught. Christ, he’s convinced, that’s what he’s telling himself now, I thought, while the swollen preacher finished his local test of strength. Opening his huge hands, Farrell offered to heal “the sick and the crippled,” just as Rudie was told on the internet.